BRADFORD – Going into their playoff game against the defending state champion, the Bradford football team knows it’s in for a tough challenge, but it’s not backing down.
Bradford will take on Marion Local, the defending Division VI Ohio High School Athletic Association champion, in the Railroaders’ first playoff game in 30 years tonight in Maria Stein. Even though they’re an underdog, the Railroaders aren’t intimidated by the Flyers.
“I think we’ve got a good gameplan going in,” senior running back and defensive back Corey Rench said. “They’re going to be a tough team of course, but we’re a tough team, too.”
Unlike Marion Local, who is making its 13th trip to the postseason in the past 14 seasons, the playoffs are a new experience for Bradford’s players. Having a united team is one of the things that gives the Railroaders hope that they can beat the more experienced Flyers.
“They’re a good team, but we’ve got everyone committed to one goal,” junior quarterback Brandon Wysong said. “I think we can shock a lot of people.”
Knowing Marion Local has a strong team, the Railroaders are trying to make sure they are completely focused on the challenge in front of them.
“I mean they’re good. They’re obviously good. They deserve to be in the playoffs,” senior tight end and defensive lineman Dallas Cassel said. “We just have to take it one week at a time because we’re not guaranteed next week.”
To senior running back and defensive end James Canan, getting to play the defending state champion is a great opportunity for the Railroaders to test themselves.
“I like it. I think it’s pretty cool,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going there and seeing what we’ve really got.”
Marion Local is led by junior quarterback Adam Bertke (No. 11), who has a scholarship offer from Toledo and interest from other colleges. The 6-foot 6-inch, 200 bound Bertke has thrown for 1,446 yards, nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions and has a 60.9 completion percentage. He also has run for 716 yards and a 12 touchdowns.
Bertke’s top targets are 6-foot 3-inch junior Troy Homan (No. 24) with 27 receptions and one touchdown, 6-foot 1-inch senior Mark Thobe (No. 1) with 22 receptions and one touchdown, 5-foot 11-inch freshman Hunter Wilker (No. 21) with 20 receptions and two touchdowns and 5-foot 10-inch sophomore Jacy Goettemoeller (No. 13) with 21 receptions and three touchdowns.
The 165-pound Goettemoeller also is Marion Local’s leading rusher, having gained 1,013 yards and run for 16 touchdowns.
In total the Flyers average 147.2 yards of passing a game and 208.7 yards rushing. They score 29.6 points per game. Bradford’s defense gives up 25 points per game.
The Railroaders are led by Dallas Cassel (No. 1), who has a team-best 48 tackles this season, including 13 tackles for a loss, and also forced a fumble.
Also along the Railroaders’ defensive line, sophomore Justin Park (No. 2) has tallied 41 tackles, including 11 tackles for a loss.
Senior Shane Hill (No. 22) is among the Bradford leaders at linebacker, having recorded 46 tackles and four tackles for a loss. He also has one interception on the season.
In the Bradford defensive backfield, Nick Rank (No. 8) leads the way with 38 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery this season. Daniel Cassel (No. 21) has 36 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble.
Offensively Bradford is led by senior running back James Canan (No. 41), who was named the Cross County Conference Back of the Year after rushing for a school record 2,254 yards. Canan also set the Bradford records for rushing yards in a career and a game in a year in which he ran for 30 touchdowns.
As a team Bradford runs for 320.9 yards a game with seniors Jake Cline (No. 39) and Corey Rench (No. 3) also having 426 and 209 yards respectively for the year.
Junior quarterback Brandon Wysong (No. 12), a three-year starter, leads Bradford’s passing attack. He has thrown for 792 yards, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions this season and completed 45.3 percent of his passes.
Wysong’s top targets are senior tight ends Dallas Cassel (No. 1) with 15 receptions and five touchdowns and Luke Hafer (No. 25) with nine receptions and one touchdown.
Bradford has scored 36.3 points per game this season while Marion Local’s defense has allowed 18.1 points per game.
Marion Local’s top tackler is senior linebacker Kyle Mescher (No. 56), who has 101 tackles and two sacks this year. Senior linebacker Alaric Keller (No. 3) has 84 tackles and a team-best five sacks for the Flyers.
Along the Flyers’ defensive line, sophomore Peyton Kramer (No. 52) has 69 tackles and three sacks and senior Tyler Fleck (No. 66) has 66 tackles and three sacks.
In the Marion Local defensive backfield sophomore Dustin Rethman (No. 10) has 35 tackles and three interceptions while sophomore Jacy Goettemoeller (No. 13) has 42 tackles and three interceptions.
Bradford head coach Curtis Enis said it’s not clear whether the Railroaders will have any advantages against the Flyers.
“We won’t know until we line up against them,” he said. “We game plan, we put things in place to try to compete against Marion Local, but one thing that we have to do is just go play 48 minutes. We just have to go play Bradford football. That’s the biggest thing we’ve got to go do.”
To be able to beat the Flyers, who at 43-9 have the third best winning percentage in OHSAA playoff history, Bradford will have to continue to play strong like it did throughout its 8-2 season, senior offensive tackle and defensive end Josh Hoelscher said
“I think we have a chance if we come out and play like we’ve been playing,” he said. “We have to play as a team and stick together, not fight with each other.”
Canan said one of the keys to the game will be minimizing mistakes.
“We just can’t make mistakes,” he said. “We just got to play our game and then let it fall how it falls.”
While the Railroaders are aware of the history of Marion Local, Enis said, they’ll treat tonight’s game just like any other.
“We approach it like every other game,” he said. “We have to make sure that we play 48 minutes of football. We have to make sure that we just go out and play our game. It’s a challenge, but it’s no other challenge that we haven’t faced before. I’m very blessed and humbled to take this team to play against the defending state champions.”
And the Railroaders hope if they play to their potential, they can surprise everyone in Maria Stein.
“Just come out and play hard and shock the world,” senior tight end and linebacker Luke Hafer said.